"Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand."
-- Revelation 8:3-4 (NASB)
I read a poem once, many years ago, in which the aftermath of a bomb was recounted in the space and time with which it spread, how it pushed out and encompassed, had consequences none could imagine, until all the devastation, all the agony, reached all the way up to the throne of God, then somehow beyond, making the whole an encompassing terror, beyond God Himself.
While I theologically disagree, I emotionally understand.
Today is the Feast of All Saints, the time in the year we set aside to honor those gone before us who have lived lives of incarnate faith, who left grace in the wake of their footprints, and who have shown us more in deed than word what it means to reach up to the throne of God.
Yet today I steady myself. I shall stand in the small stone chapel of St. Paul's, as much as I love and cherish it, weak in knees and in spirit. The morning Eucharist to mark the memory of the faithful dead shall be an ashen taste, a sacrament that sits heavy atop my heart. For this day, this most ordinary of days in the course of a life, this most extraordinary of days in the course of the Church, finds me looking to the face of God and bringing to His Table more questions than answers, more fears than peace, more agonies than joys.
I am crumbling. I can feel within me the hard, heavy beats of a wounded heart. I have received news in myriad of forms this past week that has been upsetting, that has left me with bare feet pressed into the sands of Dover Beach, looking out as the waters pull back, unearthing all those cold stones.
What's the pain here? The pain is that in the midst of it all I still believe. The terrible gift of faithfulness, of knowing that God is Good, of knowing that God is Present, and yet--oh and yet!--knowing makes it all the worse. I look into His face and plead: "Why? I believe, this I have shown You! I believe! So why? Why should there be such pain? Why should there be these wounds? Is this testing or is this my own foolish doing? Why, O Good Lord, though I say those words with my voice caught in my throat--why?"
The painful words of Job: "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him; yet I will argue my ways to His face."
On this day I walk forward to the Table, the holistic ache of myself, and I lay every burden, every tear, every agony at His feet and look up into His face. I bring these words even to the throne of God. I rend up the petitions of a bruised heart with poor speech and a vocabulary of ash.
Even to the throne of God.